In the twenty-ninth issue of The Sandman, Dream is perplexed on how to assist Joanna Constantine as she struggles during the French Revolution. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Sandman.
I don’t know that I would necessarily consider Gaiman to be a political writer, despite that he often writes about history, myth, and legends. I’d say he’s probably more interested in the politics of everyday human interaction, but even then, I haven’t ever read anything of his that’s even remotely similar to “Thermidor.” Hell, I didn’t even understand why he would set a story like this in the midst of the French Revolution until Robespierre tried to explain why it was so important that he get ahold of Orpheus’s head:
“We are remaking the world, woman; we are creating an age of pure reason. We taken the names of dead gods and kinds from the days of the week and the months of the year. We have lost the churches. I myself have inaugurated a new religion, based on reason, celebrating an egalitarian supreme being, distant and uninvolved. Don’t you understand?”
And now it seems clear to me why this is all happening: Robespierre believes that erasing history, erasing our myths and legends, is the only way towards social enlightenment. Our religions, our tales, our myths, no matter how relevant or important or empowering they are to people, are merely obstacles in the path of this liberal revolution. One of the things I liked a lot about American Gods was this implicit (and often explicit) acceptance of the tales that people told themselves to understand and cope with life. There was no attempt to say that the Christian God or Anubis were ever unimportant fictions. The mythological cast was real every step of the way. I know it’s strange for an atheist to say this, given that all these tales don’t hold a theological grip on me. But just because I don’t feel this calling to believe in anything in the spiritual realm doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it. I don’t think the true key to a more productive society is to strip it of belief. We need to teach people that what we believe is highly personal and emotional, and that this varies so drastically from person-to-person that any attempt at a tyrannical mandate that forces people to have the same experience is always going to be a futile one. You can’t force the experience of belief! You just can’t.
But hell, even before Gaiman gets to this part of the story, something much more important is revealed. WHAT THE FUCK DREAM HAS A SON? AND THAT SON IS ORPHEUS? I remember Johanna Constantine from “Men of Good Fortune,” but there was no hint of any of this. It seems to come after that story in terms of continuity. Truthfully, though, I don’t know that much about the character of Johanna Constantine outside of her appearance in this novel. BUT STILL. LET’S TALK ABOUT THIS. Dream has a son? How is that even possible? That must mean his body is physical. Did he have sex with a mortal being? Also, IT’S ORPHEUS!?!?!?!?! What the hell, I NEED SO MUCH MORE INFORMATION ON THIS!
“Thermidor” also has one of the COOLEST moments in the whole series: Johanna pulling Orpheus’s head from a pile of rotting body parts covering her ears as all the beheaded heads sing in Greek, damning Robespierre to failure. Well, I’m assuming that’s what’s implied here, that whatever Orpheus sang is what caused Louis-Antoine to falter during his speech. What’s more important about this is that we see Orpheus returned home, and that’s when holy fuck, I am destroyed by feelings. Orpheus misses his father. He can’t believe that Dream is just ignoring him, but he hasn’t even seen his father in his own dreams.
Goddamn. I want an Orpheus story NOW. Also, Dream, come on. What are you doing???
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